Review in fRoots
“Hugely impressive debut recording by a German Galway-based fiddler who’s thoroughly immersed herself in both the Irish and old-timey traditions. Her tone is ever evocative and often captivating-imagine Denis Murphy meets Martin Hayes and both win!”
Review in SingOut!
The Irish-to-English translation of Anna Falkenau’s solo fiddle album is, roughly, “Butterfly of Freedom,” an apt descriptor. It reminds me of Kevin Burke projects in the ways in which tunes are freed by putting composition and emotion at the fore instead of virtuosity. The trick, as Burke once patiently explained to me, is to make the music sound simple and easy flowing – like a butterfly’s flight – even when it’s hard to play. Falkenau does precisely this. Her tone and control are glorious, but the overall feel is that of a late-night session when the bar patrons have left and the remaining musicians are playing for each other.
This collection consists mostly of traditional Irish and American fiddle tunes inspired by the playing of such renowned old masters as Paddy Killoran, Tommy Peoples, and Pádraig O’Keefe, and recent ones the likes of Liz Carroll and Bruce Molsky. Aside from a few well-traveled tunes such as “Sally Coming through the Rye” and “The Jolly Tinker,” though, Falkenau chooses material suited to her quiet and expressive style rather than ones that sound familiar. (Over-familiarity can be a curse on solo projects.) She does let her hair down on several pieces, including “The Coolea Jig” set, the American old-time selection “Richmond,” her tour de force thump-out with bodhrán artist Johnny McDonagh on “The Little Cascade,” and her note-for-echoing-note duet with accordionist Steve Sweeney on the wonderfully titled “The Sporting Pitchfork” set. But among the many things Falkenau does well is mix tempos and moods. “The House on the Hill/The Leading Role” is lilting and smooth, her take on hornpipes “Fitzgerald’s/Bushmills” is stripped down and raw, and the lullaby effect of “Ivan’s Waltz” is enhanced by her tasteful collaboration with harper Holly Geraghty.
One of my favorites, though, was the only original on the album, “Vodka & Chocolate.” Falkenau’s liner notes say that it came to her after a Cork session in which she had been overly imbibing in the aforementioned items. The next morning she fashioned a gorgeous piece that sounds faintly like a Breton an dro. Who says excess is a bad thing? — Rob Weir
Review in The Boston Irish Reporter
Anna Falkenau, “Féileacán na Saoirse” • A native of Germany, Falkenau has spent a good chunk of her adult life in Ireland, at University College Cork (during that time she was a member of Liz Doherty’s Fiddlesticks ensemble) and, for the past decade, in Galway; in between, she pursued a graduate degree right down the road at Wesleyan University. So perhaps it’s not a surprise that she’s equally at home with Irish and American fiddle styles, and “styles” is indeed the key word here, because Falkenau shows herself capable of playing in a variety of settings, whether Sliabh Luachra and other Irish regional traditions, American old-time, and modern – including her own compositions as well as a couple by Liz Carroll.
Falkenau’s modus operandi on “Féileacán na Saoirse” – which is Gaelic for “Butterfly of Freedom” – is astute and appealing. Except for one track in which she’s joined by guitarist Kevin Hough and Mary Shannon on tenor banjo, a solo on a pair of hornpipes, and another in which she accompanies herself on viola – a gorgeous, intense rendition of the air “The Wounded Hussar,” as popularized by Sliabh Luachra legend Padriag O’Keeffe – the CD is a series of duets between Falkenau and different instrumentalists. Guitarist Ged Foley, late of the Battlefield Band and Patrick Street, plays on four of the tracks, and the rest are one-offs: Lena Ullman on five-string banjo, Holly Geraghty on harp, Steve Swee- ney on accordion and the indubitable Johnny “Ringo” McDonagh on bodhran.
The effect of this is to focus attention on her fiddling while at the same time providing a variety of moods and contexts. Her collaboration with Sweeney on a trio of classic session jigs (“The Sporting Pitchfork/High Part of the Road/Connachtman’s Rambles”) is fun, loose and easy-going; Geraghty underscores the gentleness of “Ivan’s Waltz,” a Falkenau original; the American tune “Richmond,” with its crooked phrasing and style of bowing that is markedly distinct from Irish fiddling, gets a fine lift from Ullman’s five-string; and McDonagh provides his characteristically spot-on rhythm for a medley that is arguably the album’s highlight – it begins with Falkenau playing the Irish reel “The Jolly Tinker” at a slow pace, then changes key and tempo and finally segueing into the Scottish pipe tune “The Little Cascade,” full of accents and tricky transitions. Her stints with Foley include “Sally Coming Through the Rye,” an otherworldly West Virginia tune Falkenau plays in open A tuning, and her own “Vodka & Chocolate,” a moody, moderately-paced reel, and a pairing of “Caoineadh Ui Néill (Lament for O’Neill)”—from the repertoire of another Sliabh Luachra swami, Denis Murphy—she plays solo before Foley escorts her into Carroll’s gloriously sublime “That’s Right, Too!”
The butterfly, as science teaches us, is not only lovely in its appearance, but also quite hardy, what with the long distances it migrates – rather like the music Falkenau champions. – Sean Smith
Review in the Irish Times, October 2014
The riches afforded by this textured tune selection (along with a skein of thoughtfully composed sleeve notes) is a reminder of the benefits of the hard copy over the virtual. Anna Falkenau is a fiddler with a highly developed ear for music from Sliabh Luachra and American old-time music. She often favours a deliciously stripped-down style, letting the fiddle’s most primal qualities shine through. This spartan style is a perfect fit for her tune choices, including her own beautiful Ivan’s Waltz. There’s a vitality to Falkenau’s ability to marry tunes, and her pairing of Caoineadh Uí Néill with Liz Carroll’s sublime That’s Right, Too!lingers long after the final notes have faded. Falkenau’s singular voice is ever audible, but never at the expense of the tunes. –Siobhán Long (four out of five stars)
Review in the Irish Music Magazine, August 2014
Not a common Irish name, Falkenau: this young fiddler is originally from Germany, but has taken to Irish traditional music like a duck to – well – anywhere on Erin’s green isle! After a stint in Cork, and another in Connecticut, she’s well able to produce an album mixing Irish and American old–time music with some of her own compositions. Anna Faulkner’s sweet spot seems to be the junction of Irish and American music – she tops and tails this CD with a couple of Liz Carroll reels, and makes a lovely job of them. There’s a number of accompanists on Féileacán na Saoirse, and some fine unaccompanied fiddling too. Anna’s playing is folksy, earthy, not the usual German precision, and lends itself to slower tunes and to the raw Sliabh Luachra style: her version of The Wounded Hussar is spine–tingling over a fiddle drone which acknowledges its piping legacy.
The jump to The Coolea Jig shows a sprightly side of Anna’s music, a lighter mood which leavens the heavy dark modal tunes here – but to be honest I prefer that darker side. The growling harmonies on Sally Coming Through the Rye with a high bass tuning, the sawing slow suicide of Anna’s own Vodka & Chocolate or the abject despair of O’Rahilly’s Grave which I’d even say has a touch of the Martin Hayes genius about it in Anna’s hands. Ivan’s Waltz is sweet, with Holly Geraghty keeping the harp well grounded. A bit of banjo and accordion is always welcome on Richmond and Ard Bothar, and of course it’s great to hear a Scottish gem like G S McLennan’s Little Cascade. This fiddler’s real meat is dark and heavy, Caoineadh Ui Néill and even her own title track Féileacán na Saoirse.
Give this album a listen. –Alex Monaghan
Review in Folkworld 2014
“Féileacán na Saoirse” – Butterfly of Freedom – is not just the title but a fair description of the fiddle player’s at the same time rhythmic but gentle style. Anna Falkenau grew up in east Germany but made her home in Ireland. She studied for a Bachelor of Music Degree at University College Cork, being a member of Liz Dohertys Fiddlesticks group. The past decade saw her in Galway City, playing regularly with Johnny Connolly, Mary Shannon, and Johnny Moynihan. With her duo Murray & Falkenau she has toured internationally. So now this is Anna Falkenau’s first solo album, featuring tunes from the Irish and American traditions (e.g. the old-time tune “Richmond” which evolved from “Cuckoo’s Nest”) but also new compositions from herself and others, just to mention the prolific Irish-American fiddler and composer Liz Carroll. Anna is joined by a stellar cast: accompaniment by guitarist Ged Foley (Patrick Street) harpist Holly Geraghty and bodhrán veteran Johnny McDonagh, embellishment by banjo players Lena Ullman (Buffalo in The Castle) and Mary Shannon (Bumblebees, Sharon Shannon Band). However, Anna Falkenau’s rootsy playing is always in the centre. Her personal style lends itself equally to swinging jigs, fiery reels and emotional slow airs. The Butterfly of Freedom has started its journey, and we will probably learn more of Anna’s art in the coming years. – Tom Keller
Review by Jackie Small, Irish Traditional Music Archive, Dublin
Soulful, fluent, inventive – the superlative fiddling of Anna Falkenau flows sweetly and with spellbinding expressiveness. On this superb CD she weaves a finely crafted musical tapestry from an intensely personal selection of airs and dance tunes from the Irish and American old-time traditions. Her delicate fiddling takes us to the core of some of the most deeply felt music in the Irish tradition and to infectious dance tunes, as well as to freshly composed music from herself and other fine tune makers of today.
Especially haunting are her mood-filled airs from Sliabh Luachra, the area of rushy hills in east Kerry and west Cork whose extraordinary heritage has enriched Irish music with some of the most heartfelt music in its long tradition.
On this CD Anna is supported masterfully by some of the most skilled accompanists in the contemporary Irish tradition. Jackie Small
….And a Peer Review by Award Winning Vermont Musician Bob DeMarco
Whoa Anna;)))) Very very lovely!!!! Thank you so much for sending. I’ll definitely be wearing out the grooves on this fine collection!
Overall I love the very upfront presence of each tune, feeling very much like you are all right in my living room. Minimal use of reverb or maybe none!
My favorite tracks? Hard to narrow it down! I really love Ivan’s Waltz, the harp really gives it a sublime wrapping. It literally sent a shiver through me on the first listen. Truly a work of love.
The Wounded Hussar is halting. Your viola adds such underlying sorrow. It is a wonderful production.
Vodka and Chocolate is a fantastic composition. Ged’s playing provides the perfect setting. His guitar style is always so recognizable.
I absolutely love Richmond! Such a nice dance and interplay with the banjo! I swear you guys are from here!
I hope it is obvious I could go on and on here! So I will for another moment!
The artwork is lovely and perfect, and the disc inside full of these traditional tunes played so well lives up to every expectation of it being a truly fine album.